By Eddy Odivwri
Last Wednesday, the much-talked about Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) conference kicked off. It ends tomorrow. It is the 60th gathering of the body of “learned men and women”. Perhaps, this edition became more popular on the account of the controversy generated by the disinvitation extended to the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai.
Along with other speakers, the Kaduna State governor had been selected to speak at the virtual conference. But some radical lawyers suddenly threatened to boycott the conference if el-Rufai was not dropped as one of the speakers at the conference. They accused him, among other things, of not obeying court orders, as well as not doing enough to address the incessant crises and killings that have been taking place in Southern Kaduna. Many of those who protested el-Rufai’s invitation insinuated that he had deliberately looked away while the killings and destructions took place in Southern Kaduna.
They thus argue that such a leader who neither has regard for the rule of law nor an apostle of peace and justice does not deserve the NBA platform to address any national issue.
To be sure, the capacity of el-Rufai to deeply and decisively discuss the topic of discourse is/was never in doubt. In fact, aside the fact that his state has become a major test case of the indigeneship/settler controversy, the Kaduna governor is credited with high-enough cerebral acumen to do justice to the topic.
But those who think the outgoing Paul Usoro-led NBA pandered too quickly to the NBA cabal, argue that el-Rufai was not given a fair hearing neither was he given a chance to state his own side of the story. In fact, they argue that disinviting the governor was tantamount to being judgemental in a case that has various historical prisms.
But the question remains: did the NBA consult anybody before extending the speaking invitation to Governor El-Rufai? If the answer is No, does it not also mean that the NBA reserves the right to reconsider or review any invitation to any of the speakers in its conference? Sure it does!
However, if the reason is strictly on the argument that because on one or two occasions El-Rufai had disobeyed court orders, and so should be disinvited, why is the same principle not applied to the invitation extended to former President Olusegun Obasanjo whose presidency was notorious for disregarding valid court orders? Have we forgotten the ruling against the impeachment of former Oyo State governor, Rasheed Ladoja which the Obasanjo presidency ignored? Or did we forget the court ruling ordering the federal government to release the seized Local Government allocation for Lagos State during Obasanjo’s presidency?
Under the Usoro-led NBA is it a case of selective amnesia or is it that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander? Indeed, why will Obasanjo be allowed to speak at the conference and El-Rufai will be disallowed?
That said, El-Rufai probably has a heavier case on his head than the single matter of court disobedience. The crises that have continued to trouble Southern Kaduna has, no doubt, pitched the governor against those who think he is playing silly politics with the lives and properties of the people of the region.
Although El-Rufai has striven to copiously explain that the problem predates him, his communication on his effort to address the problem has been verily poor.
And this has fed the belief that he is either non-challant about it or that he is outrightly supportive of the carnage going on in that part of the state.
The governor, in recent weeks, has been appearing on National Television, struggling to explain what his government has been doing to address the perennial unrest in the region. If all that he has said is anything to go by, then some good effort has been made. But it is an explanation coming pretty late in the day.
Gov El-Rufai, notoriously cocky, must begin to realize that it is not enough meaning well in public governance, he must be seen to be doing manifestly well.
Another lesson he must learn is that in public governance, perception is everything. He didn’t seem to care or be bothered if the entire Southern Kaduna was wiped away, so long as the people are not keeping to his model for peace. Rightly or wrongly, that is the perception that informed the protest from some of the NBA members.
Too often, the governor is self-conceited, believing only in his wisdom and emits the go-to-hell impression to those who do not agree with him. Incidentally, on this Southern Kaduna imbroglio, there are far more people who do not agree with him. Little wonder he is perceived not to be doing enough to contain the crises.
Perhaps one other worry is the uneven hand with which El-Rufai pursues peace in his state. He is perceived as being soft to his fellow Fulanis but hard to the non-Fulanis.
In his first term, he had confessed, on December 3, 2016, to not only holding meetings with known killers (Fulani herdsmen within and outside Nigeria) , but also paying them money to make them stop the killings in Southern Kaduna.
On one hand, paying monetary compensation to identified killers to persuade them to stop further killings may appear like a determined effort to broker peace and sustain order, but on the other hand, it may inadvertently come through as not only aiding and abetting crime, it will indeed, open a window for blackmail. And that was what happened. The killers kept coming back soon as the last monies paid have finished. It got to a point El-Rufai publicly denounced them and vowed not to pay any more money, and further threatened them with the law enforcement agencies. That literally worsened the spate of attacks. And that’s where we are today.
So, while El-Rufai was soft with his fellow Fulanis, he was seen as being hard and somewhat indifferent to the people of Southern Kaduna.
The people, be they Fulanis or Katafs or whatever, must be determined to eschew violence and live together in peace. They must open new chapter of peace and mutual co-exixtence. That is what will guaranty peace at the end of the day.
In all, I subscribe to the point el-Rufai made, to the effect that for a people to have perfect peace, the people themselves will deliberately resolve and make effort to have peace.